Stressed about life? Feel like you don’t have enough time on your hands? Maybe you’re a victim of emotional abuse — from your television.
What is emotional abuse? Its manifestations include ignoring, rejecting, isolating, exploiting, verbally assaulting, and terrorizing its victim. Emotional abusers make their victims believe they are deficient in some way, leading to symptoms like low self-esteem and depression.
The structure of television content, especially on the networks, is emotionally abusive. Oh, not all the time, of course. Sometimes television content can be charming, heart-warming, and funny. It can lull you into a false sense of security and acceptance. But then — abruptly — it turns on you.
The worst manifestation of this abusive content is advertising. Advertising exists to convince you that you are deficient in some area: you’re ugly, you smell bad, you’re sexually unattractive, you’re fat, you wear out-of-date clothes, you’re hopelessly behind the times, your car makes people laugh at you, your house is dirty, your social life is nonexistent, and you’re a bad parent. It makes you afraid that you’ll be rejected by your friends, coworkers, and family unless you buy its goods. It sends mixed messages, criticizing you for being fat and prompting you to compare yourself to body-beautiful models, male or female, and then it extols to you the delight of fast foods, desserts, and big restaurant meals. It encourages you to buy new cars and better furniture and then warns you that you aren’t saving enough and will end up on the streets unless you invest more intelligently. You’re left confused, insecure, and vulnerable to financial exploitation.
Most television programs are little better. They dangle before you images of middle-class families who seldom seem to need to work yet own cars, houses, and wardrobes that many Americans will never be able to afford on a middle-class salary. They present you with a United States that is predominantly white, male, and upper-middle class, in which there’s a disproportionate number of doctors, lawyers, and police, in which people have sex more often and with more partners than happens for the average American in the real world, and that features an overly high rate of violent crime, successful investigations, and serious but curable illnesses. And if that weren’t bad enough, television programs also slip advertising before you in the form of paid product placement, so that you see beautiful, successful people using recognizable brands in the hope that the halo effect will motivate you to buy those brands, too.
The news is also a malefactor, covering only a few stories in repetitive broadcasts over the course of the day and seldom looking into those substantive, complicated, or controversial stories that might alienate advertisers or other big businesses. Crime is the focus of many newscasts and is usually framed as an individual deviation from the norm, with larger societal or cultural influences on criminal activity left undiscussed. Many news programs use commercially made infomercials as though they were objective newscasts and fail to reveal the source of the material; and 30 percent of the rest of the newscast is dedicated to advertising, anyway. Interlocking boards of directors and huge corporate conglomerates encourage news shows to incestuously cover the products, celebrities, and issues owned by their corporate parents or affiliates. And it’s a rare news story that runs longer than a few minutes, leaving the viewer mystified as to the larger historical or social context of the issue.
Television ignores. For one thing, there’s little to no two-way interaction between you and your TV, and for the other, many types of people are never portrayed in television programs — they apparently don’t exist in the world of television.
Television rejects. It provides a skewed view of the world that rejects the reality lived by most Americans, especially those of lower incomes, alternative sexualities, and non-white ethnicities. Its commercial messages tell you that you’re inept, ugly, and unlovable.
Television isolates. Heavy viewers of television believe the world is a scarier, more dangerous place and are less likely to trust strangers, leave their doors unlocked, or travel to new places. Ethnocentric newscasts fail to provide viewers with a thorough understanding of global issues and sentiments, suggesting that America is the only country of importance in the world.
Television exploits. It encourages harmful levels of consumption and debt and it portrays unsafe sexual practices. It normalizes an abnormal level of wealth and beauty that creates envy and dissatisfaction in its viewers and can lead to risky or dangerous activities.
Television verbally assaults. It sends messages that belittle, shame, and ridicule you in order to sell consumer goods. Programs that extol plastic surgery and home or vehicle makeovers suggest to you that your body, home, and car are inadequate.
Television terrorizes. It depicts a “mean world” that can make you afraid to go out at night, especially in its emphasis on the ubiquity of violent crime and stranger rape. Its newscasts seldom provide a statistical background for violent crime, so that viewers don’t know if an event is an isolated occurence or very likely to happen to them.
Television neglects. It does not provide proper education or caregiving; it does not provide emotional support and nurturance.
In short, television content is structured to be emotionally abusive. So why in the world do 99% of Americans invite this emotional abuse into their homes? Why do Americans inflict this abuse on themselves and their children for an average of over four hours each day?
Get rid of your television. It may be tough, at first. Victims of emotional abuse, like addicts, may sincerely miss their abuser, remembering only the good times they had together. But be strong and don’t invite the TV back into your house. Seek out alternative activities, like books, DVDs, family, friends, and hobbies that will enrich and fulfill your life. You won’t regret it.